What’s the most expensive thing you own? Maybe it’s not the most expensive in terms of dollars, but maybe it’s something that’s impossible to replace? What would it take to make you part with it? That kind of costly, self-sacrificing love is at the theme of this question.
In chapter 14, Mark brings together certain events which occurred at various times during Jesus’s Passion week and deliberately places them side by side so that we might see the contrast.
1It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” 3And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” 10Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. – Mark 14:1-11
- The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away.
- The Passover could be celebrated only in Jerusalem, so the city was bustling with pilgrims.
- The chief priests and scribes know that if they arrest Jesus at the height of the feast, they are likely to incite a riot. So they want to act quickly.
- In sharp contrasts, Mark gives us the account of the anointing in Bethany. Chronologically, John tells us the event was six days before the Passover. Mark is recounts it out of chronological order to contrast the hatred of the priests with the compassion of Mary of Bethany.
- The setting was a large dinner party at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany, a village just over the hill from the city of Jerusalem.
- At such an dinner people did not eat at a table with chairs; instead, they reclined on cushions with their feet pointing away from the table. Jesus was reclining in this manner when a woman entered the room and poured perfume on his head.
- John 12:3 tells us that the woman is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
- This is a different and separate incident that the one recorded in Luke 7:36-50.
- Mary’s action is an act of loving sacrifice.
- The sealed alabaster container of perfume was very costly, worth a year’s wages for a working person. The nard plant was a plant native to India. If the perfume came from that plant, it would have been very, very costly. It was probably part of Mary’s dowry.
- Mary’s actions leave some of Simon’s dinner guests aghast. Mark doesn’t identify them, but Matthew tells us they are the disciples (Matthew 26:8), while John further specifies that it was Judas Iscariot (John 12:4-5). “What a waste!” they exclaim. Thousands could probably have been fed for some time with the proceeds from what had just been “wasted” on Jesus.
- Mark contrasts Mary’s love with the betrayal of Judas.
Jesus says 5 things about Mary’s action:
- Jesus said, Mary has done a beautiful thing. The beauty of it lay in its very extravagance. The perfume was probably part of her dowry. Her extravagant devotion most likely diminished her future prospects for marriage. She understands that the cross is coming, she’s preparing him for burial, and she’s sacrificing to do it. Mary is selling everything and spending it on Jesus.
- Jesus said her action is timely. Their will always be poor to help, but this is Jesus’ last week on earth.
- Jesus said, she did that which was feasible. She could not change the outcome of his trial, or remove the cross. She did that which she could do, help prepare him for the ordeal ahead.
- Jesus said her action was insightful. Jesus has been explaining to his disciples that his death is coming. They either don’t understand it or don’t want to believe it, but Mary of Bethany does.
- Jesus said, her actions deserve remembering. “The story of this beautiful act will be told in memory of her wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world.”
Mary’s actions foreshadow what Jesus would do. She broke a beautiful alabaster flask of perfume. Jesus is going to offer to break his body for us sinners.
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